|In order to know which scenes are superfluous, we have to know (really, really know) the story we want to tell. Most of us think we know what we want to write, and then we end up writing so much that we actually obscure our project’s themes. This is why I begin hefty revisions by going back to the beginning and doing these two things:
- Write the jacket copy for your book. Doing this will force you to isolate your book’s plot and themes.
- On an index card, write out your project’s four main themes. Use a single word instead of sentences. (For example, “Jealousy” instead of “In-law/fiancé issues.”) Keep this index card on your desk while you’re revising.
#2 Make your scenes defend themselves
Put your scenes on trial in front of a jury of delete buttons. Ask this of your scenes:
- Are you contributing in a clear way to the four themes on my index card?
- If you’re not supporting my book’s themes, are you developing my character’s emotional journey in a way that supports my book’s main themes?
- Are you there because you’re showing off some research I did (that took me a long time to do)?
- Are you there because I think the writing in this section is beautiful, and even though the 6-page dream sequence isn’t necessary, it’s just too good to cut?
- Are you there because I thought all books in 2020 had to have a prologue?
- Are you there because you represent an in-joke that only three readers will pick up on?
If the scene doesn’t do one of the first two things on this list, say bye-bye to it.
#3 Stitch up what you cut
So you’ve cut a bunch of scenes, and now you have all of these gaping holes in your manuscript. Ask yourself these questions before you stitch them up:
What did I write in the thing I cut?
What should I have written?
What do I need to write, now?
Some considerations as you decide what new text to write.
- Was the cut scene administrative? Did it exist solely to show that Person A made it to This Place using This Form of Transportation? If so, consider using a space to delineate a passage of time and just open the next scene in the new place. And remember: creative writing doesn’t need the admin. If you say that Person A went to the public library in a spaceship, the reader will believe you if you have developed the character in such a way that we can guess the kind of books they’re going to check out.
- Did you cut the scene because it was funny, but too long? Maybe you need more humor– in smaller doses– throughout the rest of the book.
- Did you cut the scene because it was too long? Good! What was the main point (emotional or plot related) that you were trying to communicate, and how else can you do that?
#4 Give your deleted words a home
Sometimes we cut scenes that absolutely need to go. Sometimes we edit on a day when we have low blood sugar and mercury is in retrograde and we make a big mistake. Don’t permanently delete anything as you’re cutting: create a word document where you house all your deleted scenes. I like to create a title (in bold) for what the scene was about, and put the cut scene just underneath that, making it easier to scan for content when I go back.
Your deleted scenes will serve you in some way down the road. You might turn to them for inspiration while drafting off-the-book pieces, you might transform that in-joke into a wedding toast, or you might just look back when your book is published and think, thank goodness I left those scenes out!